Last October, L.A. County Sheriff's deputies entered a popular L.A. community college and stopped every African American student they found, searching their schoolbags and holding many for more than an hour. Now students who experienced the roundup at L.A. Trade-Technical College near downtown L.A. are speaking out about how it affected them.
"Each time I see a sheriff on campus, it reminds me of what happened," said Darrin Simington, one of the students who was searched. "The fear that we experienced on October 17 is the same fear we feel today."
A report by the community college district said the searches constituted racial profiling, yet the Sheriff's Department has stated that deputies did nothing wrong. The ACLU/SC and the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP have filed a claim against the Sheriff's Department over the incident.
"The sheriffs' actions took us back to the bad old days, when police believed they could stop and harass persons based on skin color," said Catherine Lhamon, ACLU of Southern California Racial Justice Director.
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Vicente Rosales, a Latino student who witnessed the roundup, was also stopped by deputies when he attempted to film the incident on his cellphone. "Where was my freedom of speech when I needed it most?" he asked. Video Rosales posted on YouTube shows deputies standing over African American students as other students look on. Sheriffs said they were investigating drug sales on campus, but sheriffs found no evidence any of the students stopped were involved.
Longtime L.A. Trade-Tech faculty member Richard Wells, who coaches the men's basketball team, tried to intervene with sheriffs on behalf of several of his players but was turned away by deputies. Wells said he was "shocked and hurt." He added: "What I witnessed was something I thought I'd never see, when a college campus turned into the streets."
L.A. Trade-Tech is the city's oldest community college with a racially diverse student body and a rich history in the city's African American community. Last week Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke at the school.
Photos: L.A. Trade-Tech basketball players Steven Brown and Robert Summers (top) were among 33 African American students searched on campus in October 2007 by L.A. sheriffs. Fellow student Vicente Rosales (below) was detained by sheriffs when he stopped to film the incident with his phone.